A rare find in our lab after Hurricane Fiona – a White-tailed tropicbird.
As part of the ongoing National Avian Influenza Virus Surveillance Program, CWHC-Atlantic received a large shipment of birds recently from the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources and Renewables.
However sad this is, as a birder I’m also curious about the species that are found in the region. All gowned up and ready to start testing, I read on the one of the submission sheets that the bird in the package was a White-tailed Tropicbird. I thought it was a joke. Surely a tropic bird or bird from the tropics must be a mistake or a wild guess. What was I was going to find in the package?
For infectious control reasons, avian influenza suspect birds are packaged in three layers, so the suspense was building while unpacking this bird. After finally opening the third layer I saw a bird with an enormous orange bill, beautiful long white feathers with black wing bars.
Needless to say, I was puzzled and consulted our birding guide, but none of the birds in the book was fitting the bill (no pun intended). The bill colour and the weight of the bird weren’t fitting with anything in the book. I took photos and consulted with local bird expert Dwaine Oakley. Here was his reply: “This is a White-tailed tropicbird, extremely rare for Nova Scotia and our region. They feed at sea and rarely come to land, except for the breeding season. They prefer warmer waters. Sadly, some of these birds were found dead in Cape Breton Island after hurricane Fiona last fall.”
Incredibly, this bird was indeed a tropicbird, and it was found on September 25, 2022, one day after Cape Breton Island was hit hard by Hurricane Fiona. During or after storms, birders often go to the shore to see if there are rare seabirds in the area as they are swept out of territory by strong winds. More information about Hurricane Fiona and the effect it had on birds can be found here: https://www.aba.org/hurricane-fiona-report-2022/.
After digging a bit deeper, I found out that six White-tailed tropicbirds were found in Nova Scotia in the wake of the storm. Some were found deceased and some were brought to wildlife rehabbers. The bird that was submitted to us was found in St. Peters, Cape Breton, and it was alive when found. It was transported to Hope for Wildlife in Seaforth, NS, for rehabilitation. It was thin and weak, and the team was working on stabilizing the bird, but unfortunately it died within 24 hours.
Fiona passed over White-tailed tropicbird breeding sites in Puerto Rico and Bermuda, and the species is common well offshore in the western Atlantic north to North Carolina. There is ongoing intensive management to improve conditions for tropicbird breeding success in the Castle Harbour Islands Nature Reserve in Bermuda.
The tropicbird was negative for avian influenza and we are exploring the possibility of sending this bird, which is rare for our region, to a Maritime Museum for their collection.
For more information on White-tailed tropicbirds click here: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/cams/white-tailed-tropicbird/
Submitted by Fiep de Bie – CWHC Atlantic